Christmas can be an opportunity to learn for marketers stuck at dead-end firms

Christmas is a special time for marketers stuck in dead-end companies, more interested in their operations than their customers, as it gives them an opportunity to hone skills and test things out.

Secret MarketerMy favourite time for advertising is Christmas. I’m not talking about the sofa ads, and mawkish retailer spots. No no, I look forward to the big budget productions from the great brands. The ones seeking fame, not the rather brutish BrewDog infamy that pops up periodically. The fame seekers. Epic films steeped in insight, honed and crafted to perfection, that surprise and delight their viewers.

They often have a lightness of touch, a recognisable truth, a warmth, surprising humanity, and often an unsought familiarity. Of course they are deliciously branded, full of cues and subconscious distinctive prompts. Such deftness of touch. Such flights of fancy. Such focus on memorability and cultural resonance. Talkability.

How do they do it? Or more importantly, why do they do it? Why do they even bother advertising on TV, let alone spend so much money forsooth? Many a CEO and finance director has made that remark, shrugged with disbelief, and concluded their commoditised business is doing perfectly well, growing with the market, pouring what marketing budget they feel honour bound to invest into ‘digital’, to keep the board happy, and bonus on track. Budget beset marketing leaders, who should know better, timidly agree.

Don’t get me wrong, I love digital. I have built my career on transforming brands for the digital world. But it does have its place. It is no panacea, especially when it comes to building brands. I think it was Bob Hoffman who said: ‘Go into a supermarket, and tell me how many brands you can see on the shelves that were built using digital?’ Hmmm. Ouch.

In the muck and bullets of campaigning, there is always value to be found.

For some, Christmas is when we can raise our eyes to the sky and celebrate how great brands do great brand building.

This is maybe less true of the more peripatetic contingent of marketers, who aimlessly wander from brand to brand with their short tenures and digital zealotry. Operating to a model, they do their thing and move on. Never hang around to deal with the fundamentals, improve capability, build the brand, address the really big issues, or indeed, try to leave a legacy for the next generation.

What to do if you work in a place that refuses to invest in the brand and only values short-term returns? It’s tough. If the management culture is one of month-to-month focus, with no real ambition for above market growth, or a stretching five-year plan, there really is no future for an ambitious and talented brand marketer.

Of course, in the muck and bullets of campaigning, there is always value to be found. Value in exercising creativity to solve problems, test things out, fail, learn and improve. Treat it as a sandbox to hone skills. But as a place to build a career, you can do better.

This is why Christmas is so very special to marketers stuck in dead-end companies, more interested in their operations than their customers. At Christmas we can see, en masse, marketers and businesses trying to do it right. What I sometimes thing of as Grand Marketing, as opposed to its more common lesser variant. Some will fail this time around, strike the wrong note, miss the beat, but that’s ok. They will learn and come back stronger, determined to make their brands famous. As Oscar Wilde said: “We are all living in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Amen to that. Happy Christmas.



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